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Waterfowl on the Move

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It’s that time of year when changes in climactic conditions and daylight have migratory birds experiencing Zuginruhe, the German term for premigratory restlessness exhibited by birds, which could easily describe the restlessness shared by waterfowl hunters anticipating the next major flight of ducks and geese into their state. Here are a few migration facts while you fight off Zuginruhe.

Mass Migration - Severe weather will occasionally trigger a mass migration of waterfowl known as a grand passage. In early November 1995, millions of migrating ducks and geese jammed radar systems and grounded flights in Omaha, Nebraska, and Kansas City, Missouri, following a severe blizzard in the Prairie Pothole Region to the north. 

Cruise Control - Most waterfowl fly at speeds of 40 to 60 mph, with many species averaging roughly 50 mph. With a 50 mph tail wind, migrating mallards are capable of traveling 800 miles during an eight-hour flight. Studies of duck energetics show that a mallard needs to feed and rest for three to seven days to replenish the energy expended during this eight-hour journey.

Speed Record - The fastest duck ever recorded was a red-breasted merganser that attained a top airspeed of 100 mph while being pursued by an airplane. This eclipsed the previous speed record held by a canvasback clocked at 72 mph. Blue-winged and green-winged teal, thought by many hunters to be the fastest ducks, are actually among the slowest, having a typically flight speed of only 30 mph.

High Altitude - Ducks usually migrate at an altitude of 200 to 4,000 feet but are capable of reaching much greater heights. A jet plane over Nevada struck a mallard at an altitude of 21,000 feet—the highest documented flight by North American waterfowl. And a 1954 climbing expedition to Mount Everest found a pintail skeleton at an elevation of 16,400 feet. 

Nonstop Flight - The long-distance flying champions of all waterfowl are black brant, which migrate nonstop from coastal Alaska to their wintering grounds in Baja California—a journey of roughly 3,000 miles—in just 60 to 72 hours. The birds lose almost half their body weight during this marathon flight. Pintails raised in Alaska that winter in Hawaii make a similar trans-Pacific flight of about 2,000 miles

Seasoned Traveler - A pintail banded in 1940 in Athabasca, Alberta, survived until January 1954 when it was shot near Naucuspana, Mexico, roughly 3,000 miles away. If this pintail migrated between these two locations every year throughout its known lifetime, the bird would have logged nearly 80,000 air miles.

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